I don’t like snakes! They make my skin crawl and my liver quiver! Noah should have banned them from the ark!
When the Children of Israel rebelled, God used snakes as an instrument of His always-righteous wrath.
Before we remember the story, let’s get a little context. Leaving Egypt, the Israelites had crossed the Red Sea and arrived at Mount Sinai where God marvelously and miraculously revealed Himself.
The nation remained at Sinai until “the second year, in the second month on the twentieth day of the month, the cloud was lifted up above the tabernacle of the testimony. The Israelites traveled on from the Wilderness of Sinai, moving from one place to the next until the cloud stopped in the Wilderness of Paran” (Numbers 10:11–12). From their camp there (Numbers 13:3), Moses sent twelve spies into Canaan to survey the land. Sadly, the majority report led the nation to defy God and refuse his gracious gift (Number 13-14). God declared, “Your corpses will fall in this wilderness… I swear that none of you will enter the land I promised to settle you in, except Caleb … and Joshua” (Numbers 14:29–30).
Thirty-eight-years later, in the fortieth year of their wilderness wanderings (Numbers 20:28; 33:38), the Children of Israel again rebelled against their God and His anointed leader. “The people spoke against God and Moses: ‘Why have you led us up from Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread or water, and we detest this wretched food!’ ” (Numbers 21:5). The ungrateful Jews had been griping and groaning for forty years! Would they ever learn? Couldn’t they learn to trust the faithfulness of their All-Faithful God?
Pause… look in the mirror and ask the same question…
Because of their rebelliousness, “the Lord sent poisonous snakes among the people, and they bit them so that many Israelites died” (Numbers 21:6) The slithering serpents wreaked havoc! Can you imagine the squealing, screaming, and caterwauling?
The Lord provided a remedy and rescued them from death and destruction. He told Moses, “Make a snake image and mount it on a pole. When anyone who is bitten looks at it, he will recover” (Numbers 21:8). Anyone who received a deadly bite from the venomous snake, was invited to look faithfully to God’s gracious cure, the bronze snake lashed perpendicular to the pole... in the shape of a cross.
Years later Jesus reviewed this story with Nicodemus, the religious expert. “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:14–16).